Sadly, the 13 in 2013 proved to be an unlucky one for women’s indoor football. While the outdoor game made tremendous strides with another successful IFAF World Championship, the MWFL celebrating its tenth anniversary and the Chicago Force being honored at Wrigley Field, the indoor game has yet to reach such heights.
With the Legends Football League having returned to the field in the US for the first time since 2011, it should have signified the beginning of a new chapter. Expansion teams in Atlanta and Omaha showed lots of promise in those markets, while Seattle enjoyed its first-ever undefeated season.
The season belonged to Chicago quarterback Heather Furr who gained MVP honors while helping the Chicago Bliss to a championship. Along with the Chicago Force winning the WFA crown, it marked the first time that a city won LFL and WFA championships in the same season.
Despite the momentum, things seemed to descend into a downward spiral. The LFL was prepared to open its second Canadian season when there had been concerns over preparation. While the coaches and league leadership agreed on reducing the schedule to two games, it caused unrest with some players, leading some players to threaten to boycott the season.
Unfortunately, the unrest led to the visceral decision of pulling the plug on the team. Compounding matters was the fact that many members of the Calgary Rage opted not to stay with the organization. Although the remaining players stayed on and continued to practice in the harsh Alberta outdoors to prepare for 2014, there was a flurry of stories in the press as to why the collapse occurred.
Compounding matters was the fact that there was truly a missed opportunity. As several members of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League had committed to Calgary either as players or trainers, it could have marked the beginning of a possible alliance. With the media attention that the Calgary franchise received, it would have been mutually beneficial for the WWCFL players that committed. It would have brought attention to a highly deserving group of athletic women in the WWCFL.
Alas this did not materialize, leaving the short-term future of the franchise in limbo. While the league proclaims that it will return with possibly six teams, what league shall take shape? For the players who were upset over the dissolution of the 2013 season, will they return to active competition or are these working relationships broken beyond repair?
The collapse of the Canadian season was an ominous sign of things to come. A group of American-based players appeared on the television program Inside Edition and discussed what they felt were safety issues. In addition, legendary quarterback Nikki Johnson also stated publicly that she believed there were changes needed for morale. As players do not have health insurance, medical costs come out of pocket. Despite her star power, Johnson was released from the league.
Suddenly, defections of players caused a plethora of talent to become available. While Johnson is planning a return to the outdoor game with the Las Vegas Showgirlz of the Women’s Football Alliance, another indoor league took root.
The WIFL held a lot of promise with the acquisition of athletes such as Tia Knipper, Maegan Larsen, Amber Wilson and Cara Vargas. With the promotion that players would be compensated for their efforts and several sponsors in place, players and fans alike had reason for optimism.
While it seemed that the WIFL would provide competition in the market and create a more equitable situation in which all indoor women’s football would improve, reality was not the case. Controversies over players having to pay at various regional tryouts were an ominous sign of things to come.
The enthusiasm and spirit displayed by so many athletes and other volunteers would end up in disappointment as the start-up quickly collapsed over other shocking revelations. The end result is that a group of promising female athletes have now become disillusioned over the mention of indoor football.
Sadly, this turn of events may lead to an outright collapse in indoor women’s football. In theory, indoor football held so much potential. For those who were not sure about the outdoor game, competing at an indoor level would provide an indication as to whether the game was for them. Considering many competitors from the WFA also played indoors, it was an opportunity to keep their skills sharpened.
Now the players are left to pick up the pieces after a storm of controversy has nearly destroyed the sport. Even if a legitimate business person or enterprise would wish to start up their own league, it is all but impossible. The negative outcome has left a bad taste in the mouth of so many. At this point, a player-run series of exhibition games (or friendlies) may keep the game alive but its potential for long-term growth has been severely stunted.